Of Dollywood and Big Spotlights

Anyone who has ever driven anywhere new with another person knows that one gets to be the ‘pilot’ while the other gets to be the ‘navigator.’ Usually this works very well as long as both people are clear on what their roles are along the journey. What usually happens, however, is that either the pilot doesn’t understand the navigator’s instructions or the navigator can’t read a map to save his or her life.

A couple weeks ago, Thomas and I took Lewis to America for March Break. For the most part, the drive was uneventful with the exception of the day we drove from the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Georgia to Pigeon Forge just outside of the Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

We had experienced the nightmare of trying to get around the detours in and around Knoxville on our way down to Georgia. We had suffered through the detour for State 40 via the 640 and we had experienced Route 441 in all its glorious confusion. We were both determined to avoid Knoxville at all costs on our way back into Pigeon Forge later on that day.

Now I will tell you that for the most part, it’s very easy to tell the difference between Interstate and U.S. Numbered Routes, Tennessee and adjoining state routes, access fully controlled and multilane (divided and undivided) Interstate and State highways, miles between the red darts and the exit numbers found between the green darts. And although I can get an idea on some of the reasons a navigator might misread a map, I don’t usually have those sorts of problems.

So there we were, the three of us in Thomas’ car, leaving Georgia behind as we motored along I-75 towards Tennessee. We probably should have taken I-75 but Thomas and I were feeling somewhat adventurous and we wanted to see some of the hidden beauty of Tennessee on our way back late at night.

Mind you, it wasn’t dark when we started off towards Pigeon Forge even though it was darker than pitch when we pulled into Pigeon Forge. We had successfully circumvented Chattanooga when we happened upon the State 11/64 exit that would eventually lead us to Cleveland provided we met up with State 311 just south of Cleveland. We did and with a jig to the right, we were soon on State 40 headed for Ocoee and Route 411. A turn to the left and we were headed towards Madisonville just east of Sweetwater. As the sun set we found ourselves well on our way towards Maryville and options!

We were making great time, keeping to the speed limit and in a moment of silliness, I looked at Thomas and asked, “Do you want to see something really scary?” before launching into “Let The Midnight Special.” Thomas chuckled at the “Twilight Zone” movie reference.

Once in Maryville, I wanted to head along State 321 that would take us through Townsend where the Tukaleechee Caverns are found and along the edges of the Smoky Mountains National Park. That idea was nixed by the driver who, having driven these roads many times before, felt it was foolhardy to travel in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains after 9:00 p.m.

“Don’t worry,” he reassured me. “All we have to do is continue following the 411 and watch for the turn off to Sevierville.”

It was all so simple. My job as navigator, according to the pilot, was done and so I folded up the map and tried to relax. We coasted into Newell Station a few minutes later and there the pilot saw the roadside signs for U.S. Numbered 411/441.

I had wanted to go right at the intersection but the pilot wanted to go left, and seeing that he knew where he was headed better than I, we turned left. We passed through the lovely little town of Seymour where the roads were narrow and the corners were tight. Then we sailed past the sign announcing that the airport was ahead somewhere.

And then there we were … IN KNOXVILLE?!?!?!

How in the world did we end up in Knoxville? When I folded up that map, we were well on our way to getting into Pigeon Forge according to schedule but somehow, we found ourselves in Knoxville.

The pilot turned the car around and said to me, “We have to go back along the highway and find the turn off for Sevierville.”

“OK,” I replied, confused at how we had found our way to Knoxville. I was silent for two minutes and then commented helpfully, “The sign says we’re on the 441.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he muttered. “If we’re on the 441, we should be in Pigeon Forge by now. Watch for the turn off sign for the 441 to Pigeon Forge.”

So I went back to watching the side of the road the way a cat watches string being pulled along the floor in front of it.

“There’s a billboard for Dollywood,” I offered hopefully. There was no mistaking the toothy grin and the billboard spotlights; that was Dolly inviting us to visit her in Pigeon Forge. And then I got to wondering. How was it that we had taken a wrong turn on the highway we were supposed to be on – and that we indeed were on – in the first place? How does someone get on the right highway and still not get to their destination?

We zoomed past another Dollywood billboard and yet a third Dollywood billboard before seeing one for Dolly’s Dixie Stampede. If nothing else, we were learning a lot about the many Dolly Parton attractions in Pigeon Forge.

Sevierville,” Thomas breathed with relief.

Sevierville? We were in Sevierville and we hadn’t found the turn off yet! I was as confused about arriving in Sevierville as I had been arriving in Knoxville. We hadn’t passed any road signs announcing a turn off to get to Sevierville and yet, here we were in Sevierville.

A right turn and 5 minutes later we were in Pigeon Forge!

The major lesson I learned is that if you have a good pilot and a good navigator, do not tempt fate by singing the first song heard in the “Twilight Zone” movie … no matter how much you like the song or the movie!

And the other lesson I learned was to thank Dolly Parton for having so many billboards along the highway with those really big spotlights on them.

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